by Octavia E. Butler, 1993
Well, color me terrified. I first read Parable of the Sower when I was in grad school, thanks to a wonderful professor who taught a popular literature class. I had never heard of Butler before this and I am forever indebted to that professor for introducing me to one of the greatest voices in science-fiction. Parable of the Sower is a bit of a post-apocalyptic tale. In 2024, the country is in a state of unrest due to the effects of climate change and extreme economic stratification. The rich are getting richer, the poor are getting poorer, and water sources are drying up. Fifteen-year-old Lauren Oya Olamina, our protagonist, is a preacher’s daughter who lives within the relative safety of a walled community until, one day, that wall fails to offer protection. This is her story.
by Susan Cain, 2012
I’m an introvert through and through. I’ve long come to terms with this and have understood that I have to save up my social interactions for the times when they matter and I turn down unimportant social events if I don’t truly feel like attending them. Now in my late 30s, I proudly stay home on New Year’s Eve and don’t feel like I’m missing anything at all. I’ve also learned, through some unfortunate trial and error, that I’m best paired with extroverts and understand that any relationship I embark on with another introvert is likely doomed from the start. I know a lot about myself as an introvert and I accept myself as who I am. That said, there’s still quite a bit of joy to be found in reading a book that celebrates all those qualities that society at large tries to condition out of us.
by Octavia E. Butler, 1989
Imago is the third and final book in the Xenogenesis trilogy. Instead of finishing Akin’s story that began in Adulthood Rites, we’re introduced to one of Akin’s siblings, Jodahs. What makes Jodahs special is that when the time for maturation arrives, it becomes neither female nor male. Jodahs is the first genderless ooloi construct born on Earth.
by Octavia E. Butler, 1988
Adulthood Rites continues the story of Lilith Iyapo and the alien beings – the Oankali – and their effort to repopulate the Earth with a new generation of mixed species entities. To my disappointment, in some ways, the story does not pick up where Dawn left off. It does not tell us how the humans and the Oankali returned to Earth or how they started their settlement or how the starting rift between Lilith and the other humans progressed. We only know that there is a group of humans called the “resisters” and that they live in towns separate from the human-Oankali settlements. We also know that they will eventually die out because the war that nearly ended human life has impeded natural procreation and there will only ever be human-Oankali babies, called “constructs,” from that point forth. We also know that the creation of these hybrids has been successful, as our protagonist Akin is none other than Lilith’s construct child.
by Octavia E. Butler, 1987
Dawn is the first in Butler’s Xenogenesis series, and it is appropriately named, as it follows what is essentially the rebirth of the human species. After Earth has been devastated by war, the alien race of the Oankali have swooped in to save the few humans who are left. Their plan is to mix their genes with human genes to produce a new mixed race of beings that can survive on a new Earth. At only 26, our protagonist Lilith Iyapo has been selected to lead the creation of this new race. What makes this new pairing particularly interesting, aside from, you know, human-alien hybrids, is that the Oankali males and females mate with the aid of a third being, a genderless individual called an ooloi. Through the Oankali we see not just the birth of a new species, but a rejection of the rigid gender roles that have plagued humans since the beginning of time.
by Octavia E. Butler 1984
While Clay’s Ark is the chronological third part in the Patternist series, it was the final book of the series to be published. In this installment, we leave behind the Patternists and the origin story of Doro and Anyanwu and we learn how the physically powerful and dangerous Clayarks came to be. Except for their place as the antagonists in Patternmaster, we haven’t learned anything about these beings or why they are the way they are. I’ll admit to being a bit disappointed to leave the Patternists behind, as Wild Seed left me wanting to know so much more about the originators of this clan, but Clay’s Ark provides a fitting and much needed backstory for our series’ adversaries.
by Octavia E. Butler, 1980
Wild Seed is the first book in the chronology of the Patternist series, but it’s the third book that was published (fourth, if you count Survivor, which is no longer in print). While I can see some benefit to reading these according to the series’ timeline – the setup and characters in Mind of My Mind make much more sense now – reading these according to publication date really allows you to see how Butler developed as a writer. Patternmaster and Mind of My Mind were perfectly fine books, but I found they lacked a certain nuance that attracted me to Butler when I first read her in grad school. In Kindred and now Wild Seed, it’s as if Butler has come into her own and fully realized the message she wants to convey with her science fiction. This is not just the story of two immortal beings but one of institutionalized gender and social inequality. Hell, if it weren’t for the immortal being business and the shape-shifting, this would essential be historical fiction.